Rail pick-up is from Gloucester station, and drop-off at Bridgewater station. Please contact our office for full details. Drivers can leave vehicles safely parked at our first hotel, and you will be returned here at the end of the holiday.
DAY 1 - Saturday
We gather at our excellent hotel in the heart of the Forest of Dean. After settling in we have a briefing, and may take a short walk nearby to familiarize ourselves. This hotel is perfectly placed, with walks directly into the woods and the possibility of feeding Hawfinch nearby. Our excursions are within a short drive, giving us more time for birding. The building dates back to the 17th century when it was used as a hunting lodge, and is full of character with an excellent and varied menu. Four nights at Speech House Hotel, Forest of Dean.
DAY 2 - Sunday
A day exploring the Forest of Dean. Our main targets will be Hawfinch and displaying Goshawk, but we'll also be looking for other woodland birds. We take short walks at various locations around the Forest. On a sunny day the Goshawks could be displaying, hopefully we can see them performing their magnificent ‘sky-dancing’ display. Resident Hawfinch numbers are boosted in winter by continental birds and rove the forest in small elusive flocks looking for seeds, sometimes in mixed feeding flocks of Common Crossbill, Redpoll, Siskin and Brambling. These flocks can contain many small birds, and we will be looking for nationally declining Willow Tit, plus Nuthatch, Treecreeper and if we’re very lucky Lesser-spotted Woodpecker and Firecrest. Over recent years the Forest has held wintering Great Grey Shrike and Waxwing plus Fieldfare and Redwing, so we shall be searching for these too if present. The Forest of Dean also supports probably the largest population of free-living Wild Boar in the country and we take a night drive looking for them as they often root-up the roadside verges.
DAY 3 - Monday
Today we drive down from the forest escarpment into the Severn Vale, where we spend the day exploring the Severn estuary, an excellent place for wintering wildfowl and waders, and we may see Greenland White-fronted Geese, Bewick's Swan, godwits, raptors and more. We visit WWT Slimbridge, Peter Scott's flagship reserve, and although this is perhaps the best known place, other sites visited today might include Ashleworth Ham, Coombe Hill meadows, Frampton Marsh and Fretherne. Wildfowl and waders will dominate our birding, perhaps including godwits, Spotted Redshank, Jack Snipe, Little and Temminck’s Stint, Grey and Golden Plover, though these places often turn up Peregrine, Merlin, the occasional harrier, and both Long and Short-eared Owl. Other wintering birds may include Bittern, Iceland, Glaucous and Mediterranean Gulls, and under certain weather conditions skuas and shearwaters, blown into the estuary.
DAY 4 - Tuesday
Another day in the forest to find species we may have missed, including a visit to Symonds Yat viewpoint which not only gives stunning views over the River Wye but is home to a resident pair of Peregrine. It’s also a good location for other raptors, with Goshawk, Red Kite, Buzzard, Sparrowhawk and Raven all regularly seen. As well as this we’ll explore the various water bodies around the forest looking for Mandarin ducks, Goosander, Dipper, Grey Wagtail and Kingfisher; of course we could bump into any of the other forest specialities whilst doing this day. In the evening we may again take a drive around the forest lanes looking for Wild Boar.
DAY 5 - Wednesday
After a little more time in the woods we decamp down to the Somerset levels, where we stay for three nights. After arrival we settle in, and should have time to begin exploring this excellent birding area, including the awesome Starling murmuration.
Only a short drive from the Ham Wall and Shapwick Heath reserves, our accommodation is at the comfortable and friendly Meare Manor, a historic manor house rebuilt in 1802, and now a 4-star guest house, perfect for our needs, and with great views over the Vale of Avalon. Three nights at Meare Manor Guest House.
DAY 6 - Thursday
A full day exploring the levels, where the birding may include Great White Egret, Bittern, Marsh Harrier, Water Rail, wintering Short-eared Owl and huge flocks of wintering duck. Great Crested and Little Grebe fish the open water while Kingfisher zip up the ditches giving their piping calls. Loud bursts of song from Cetti’s Warbler come from the reeds, while the subtle ‘pings’ of Bearded Tits can be heard as small flocks fly low over the reedbeds. Barn Owl hunt the levels at dusk, and Otter and Water Vole are resident and could be encountered if we’re lucky. We won't know where to look first! The reserves of Ham Wall (a nationally important wetland created by the RSPB from old peat workings) and Shapwick Heath will be our main areas of exploration during the day, perhaps ending with another session watching the Starling roost, with up to a million birds performing their aerial murmuration.
DAY 7 - Friday
Another day exploring the levels and the many species it holds. We search for the Common Cranes which now inhabit the levels, and visit a few more reserves perhaps including Grey Lake (a mix of reeds, grassland, willow and open water), Catcott (an area of grazing marsh which floods in the winter providing an excellent area for foraging wildfowl), and Westhay Moor, part of the mystical Avalon Marshes, a mosaic of marsh, reed beds and lakes.
DAY 8 - Saturday
Breakfast and departure.